Zais’s bag of tricks too scary for education

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Jackie Hicks

This Halloween, I think it would be fitting for State Education Superintendent Mick Zais to dress up as “Mayhem,” the character from those amusingly tragic Allstate commercials.
The changes Dr. Zais is trying to steamroll through our state’s education standards in a thinly veiled attempt to pave his way to re-election would leave the quality of South Carolina public education badly bruised and battered.
Consider Mayhem’s crusade to gut State Regulation 43-205, which governs the qualifications and workloads of our state’s educators. Zais’s latest trick is to treat our local school districts to the untethered freedom to staff, or not to staff, as they see fit – with no minimum statewide standard. Lifting the cap on minimum ratios of teachers to students and administrators to students would give cash-strapped districts carte blanche to pass on hiring additional staff as their censuses increase. Picture a hapless kindergarten teacher saddled with 50-plus charges. How about an overwhelmed principal trying to single-handedly manage a campus of 600 students with no assistant principals or guidance counselors.
Zais, who has absolutely zero experience as a teacher in a K-12 public school in South Carolina, has called such concerns “dreamed-up doomsday scenarios.” With more than 30 years of experience in the public school classroom, I beg to differ.
Mayhem claims to have visited some 220 schools in the state since he was elected in 2011. Those ceremonial visits − with polite school staffers in their Sunday best − hardly qualify as substantive information-gathering and barely scratch the surface of the challenges schools face daily.
“It looks like this whole flexibility thing is a nice way for the state to tell districts they aren’t getting any more money – but, hey, buck up.
Now you won’t have to hire any extra teachers.” wrote Brian Hicks in an Oct. 11 Post & Courier opinion piece. Well said.
From my perspective, it’s really not about flexibility; it’s about quality.
Mayhem’s proposal would present workload burdens that prohibit teachers from giving students the proper attention they need to succeed academically. Presented with increasingly impossible working conditions, teachers and administrators will flee the profession in droves from burnout and exhaustion.
It’s unconscionable to facilitate this partisan agenda for smaller government on the backs of our students. Zais’s proposed elimination of 40 – count ‘em – 40 essential state provisions is a step in the direction of a completely unregulated school environment. Pure chaos. And that sends a message to students that their needs take a back seat to political expediency.
These provisions were put in place to ensure that certain minimum standards are met for every student in South Carolina − minimum standards to which local governing bodies must adhere in developing their budget priorities.
The S.C. Education Association (SCEA) is committed to raising standards for teachers and strengthening the quality of public education.
If our schools are to succeed, at a minimum, we must provide certified teachers, reasonable class sizes and the educational support our students need. I encourage the State Board of Education, when it votes on this proposal next month, to reject Mayhem’s plan for our schools. It’s really too scary to fathom.

Jackie B. Hicks, a veteran high school math teacher from Clover, is president of the S.C. Education Association. Contact her at jhicks@thescea.org.